Proximity to drilling sites puts Susquehanna River at risk

    A national report on the country’s “most endangered rivers” ranks the Susquehanna number one.

    Jeff Schmidt of Pennsylvania’s Sierra Club said that’s due to natural gas drilling along the state’s northern tier. “The American Rivers [the organization that publishes the annual report] recognizes – and Sierra Club recognizes – there are other problems related to water quality in the Susquehanna. But those problems pale in significance, compared to the over-arching threat represented by Marcellus Shale drilling throughout the basin,” he said.

    Schmidt and other environmentalists are worried chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing could migrate into the Susquehanna’s waterways, along with methane gas.

    Here’s American Rivers’ full take on the Susquehanna: “One of the longest rivers in America, the Susquehanna River provides drinking water to millions of people and supplies more than half of the freshwater to the Chesapeake Bay. But the river and its clean water are threatened by natural gas development, which produces toxic waste and requires millions of gallons of water. Unless Pennsylvania, New York, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission announce a complete moratorium on water withdrawals and hydraulic fracturing and comprehensive safeguards for clean water are enforced, drinking water and public health will be at risk.

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With hundreds of wells already under production in counties surrounding the Susquehanna, a moratorium is politically unlikely at this point – especially since Governor Tom Corbett is committed to growing Pennsylvania’s gas industry. (In speech after speech, Corbett says he’s equally committed to protecting the environment and drinking water. His Marcellus Shale Commission will provide both regulatory and economic policy suggestions this summer.)

    Not surprisingly, the drilling industry is skeptical of the new report. Kathryn Klaber, the president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, emailed, “Despite the fact that the livelihoods of nearly 25,000 Gulf Coast residents are now hanging in the balance as the Mississippi River continues to swell at unthinkable rates, this organization – which ironically claims to stand ‘up for healthy rivers so communities can thrive’ – is seeking nothing more than to undercut the responsible development of clean burning, job-creating natural gas.”

    She continued, “We’re very proud of the fact that our industry’s work is allowing communities across the Commonwealth to once again thrive. Our work can and must be balanced with the protection of our environment, especially our water resources. It’s very sad and predictable, however, that some organizations will stop at nothing, disregarding facts and science at every turn, to thwart American energy production.”

    Last year’s report listed the Delaware River as its top endangered waterway. The 2010 survey was released shortly before the Delaware River Basin Commission expanded a temporary moratorium on drilling in its region, as the governing body debates new regulations.

    “Since the Susquehanna doesn’t have a similar effort underway, and it’s got the majority of gas drilling in its basin, in Pennsylvania, I’m not surprised by [the Susquehanna’s rank],” said Schmidt.

    This year’s report says Wyoming’s Hoback River is also threatened by natural gas drilling.

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